Many teenagers think they are invincible when it comes to identity theft. In fact, when the dangers or risks are pointed out, they often respond with, “Yeah, but that won’t happen to me.”
Some dangers are intuitive and easy to understand (driving without a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet while engaging in extreme sports, or the more recent risky behavior of texting and driving). Explaining these dangers to them deals with concepts they understand and are familiar with, yet they still will often ignore your warnings.
This is not the case with identity theft: it is a complex crime that can involve one’s financial accounts, medical insurance, credit records, employment records, and government benefits. Many of these concepts are less familiar territory for teenagers, which can make them even less likely to think that identity theft should be a concern.
AllClear ID, a leading identity theft protection company, revealed in its 2012 Child Identity Theft Report that 10.7% of all children were victims of child identity theft and minors were 35 times more likely to be a victim of identity theft than adults.
Once you have educated your teenager that they can be an identity-theft victim, explain the huge, long-term consequences. Identity theft poses serious financial and even physical harm to anyone, but it is especially detrimental for minors. Identity theft becomes more severe the longer it is ignored or goes undiscovered. Minors typically do not engage in as many financial transactions as the average adult; as a result, they do not check their credit reports.
While an adult may discover they are a victim of identity theft when they apply for a credit card or a loan because they are denied due to bad credit, a 14-year-old child may not discover the fraud until four years later when they are applying for student loans or moving out of their parents’ home. This gives an identity thief time to do more damage to the minor’s credit by taking out more loans and debt over the years.
Another reason why identity theft can be so uniquely harmful to minors is that teenagers in high school undergo a significant transition when they finish high school and join the workforce or go to college. The effects of identity theft can postpone many aspects of a person’s normal development during this transitional period:
- Student loans may be denied due to bad credit, delaying when a teenager can start their college career by a year or more.
- Employment applications may be turned down due to bad credit or a criminal record.
- Housing applications may be denied due to bad credit, delaying when a teenager can move out of their parents’ home.
- A driver’s license application may be turned down or a driver’s license may be suspended or revoked.
Three Tips to Help Teenagers Protect Themselves
Here are three simple tips that you can give your teenagers to help them protect themselves from falling victim to this crime.
1. Protect your personally identifiable information (PII).
- Tell your kids to protect and safeguard personal details like Social Security number, driver’s license number, account names and passwords, and medical or insurance records.
- Identity thieves often use some or all of that PII to commit fraud. Explain how these pieces of information are vitally important and that they should always be kept out of sight and private. They should check with you before giving out any of this information to a third party.
2. Be careful about how you use and what you post on your social media networks.
- Do not download or click on any links that you are not absolutely sure are safe. A virus can be downloaded by clicking on a malicious link that will steal information on your computer.
- Do not post anything that has PII on it. While it may be exciting that you just got your driver’s license, do not post a picture of it for the world to see.
- Never give your password to anyone, especially if you receive an email purporting to be from the social media network itself requesting your username and password information.
3. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) as often as possible.
- A personal VPN allows your child to anonymously and privately surf the Internet so an identity thief can’t monitor your child’s activities and steal personal information.
- It is all the more important to use a VPN when using the Internet in a public WiFi hotspot, especially if your children plan to do any online shopping. The VPN will protect the credit card and other financial information they will input to make the purchase by encrypting and protecting the data. The VPN creates a “secure tunnel” so that the bad guys can’t sniff out any of your child’s — or your own — personal, sensitive, and private details!